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A small but intense drama unfolded last week in the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. Thanks largely to the graciousness of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia, the matter was resolved in the least painful way possible. Even so, it warrants a few words of reflection.
The Episcopal diocese was seeking a large, convenient venue for the upcoming consecration of Rev. Susan Haynes as bishop. The diocese asked for permission to use the spacious parish of St. Bede Catholic Church in Williamsburg for the rites. The parish pastor and the Catholic bishop of Richmond, Barry Knestout, granted permission. This sparked a backlash from many lay Catholics, who were distraught by the news that a Catholic parish planned to host the consecration of an Episcopalian bishop (a woman, as it happened, though that fact was mostly a distraction in this case). After a few days of increasing Catholic institutional embarrassment, the Episcopalians canceled their plans and found another site for the ceremony. Two points suggest themselves.
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First, the remarkably effective lay opposition was formed almost entirely via social media, and was covered mostly by alternative Catholic news sites. In other words, this drama was largely driven by forces in cyberspace. At some point Catholic leadership simply must begin to appreciate this new reality.
Second, and more important for Catholic life, the pastor of St. Bede and the bishop of Richmond had consulted Church law in this matter, and their decision was based on a reasonable reading of the relevant provisions of Catholic ecumenical and liturgical law. Thus, while pastors and bishops should expect to run afoul of good Church sense whenever they run afoul of Church law, in this case, even following canon law (or a reasonable interpretation thereof) did not suffice to keep Church leaders within the bounds of Catholic common sense. An...
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